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Friday, 27 August 2010

The Complexity of Implementing e-Portfolios

Snapshots of Lisa and Gordon taken from the videoThe title of this post is taken from the post written by Vic Jenkins at the University of Bath reporting on the recent Keynote presented by Lisa Gray (JISC) and Gordon Joyes (University of Nottingham). I found the title challenging enough, but the actual post is even more challenging and needs some careful understanding. The video was well put together (despite the audio feedback!) - and I found myself viewing it over and over again.

Some five 'Threshold Concepts' are listed, each followed by a number of claimed 'preconceptions'. However, as I commented on Vic's post, I suspect that many (but not all) of the issues raised by the 'preconceptions' are nothing to do with ePortfolio design or lack of it, but rather echoes of traditional teaching and learning styles which need to be thrown out before ePortfolios can be introduced.

One thing that continues to worry me, as reflected in the Presentation, is the belief that an ePortfolio system is the sole tenure of HEIs, as this again colours much of the published ePortfolio thinking. I really do wish that more ePortfolio evangelists would look beyond the silos within which they work or that they might look beyond the remit of a constraining research grant.

If an ePortfolio is really 'for life' then it cannot be weighed down with built-in assessment tools, whole schemes of work, every artefact generated over four years, every blog-post and feedback or made so technically complex that a 5yr-old or aged granny cannot use it.

Don't get me wrong, I have every praise for the work that JISC in particular does do. But I really do hope that we can come to some sort of consensus as to the simplicity that an ePortfolio such as eFolio can offer.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Student-Centered Learning: Target or Locus for Universities?

Trent Batson always writes both eloquent and very relevant articles and this is no exception. I quote but three brief paragraphs from a very challenging post:

"Student-centered learning has been largely a rhetorical distinction for decades - e.g., more group work or less group work - because, practically speaking, everything happened in the classroom. But now, student-centered learning has, as a concept, particularly in the past five years, come to encompass a vastly wider variety of choices, about how to design and plan for it.

"Now, the distinction is not just rhetorical, but a life style distinction: scarcity learning (content delivery) in the classroom or abundance learning (discovery) often out in real-world situations. In scarcity learning, the student is the target for delivery systems, while in abundance learning the student is the locus, the starting point, of learning.

"Higher education has unwittingly chosen to use the very technologies that have changed our broader economy to resist change in education. In the free market, in society, people are choosing to use technology inventively and boldly, but in the controlled market of the academy, administrators limit the technology options and proceed without imagination or courage, except in rare cases."

The points that Trent identifies have worried me for over a decade now. My son left High-School at the age of 16 with 11 good GCSE grades hoping to do even better at College. Unfortunately he found the lecturers dull and in his estimation not always competent in their subjects. The textbooks that he was supposed to work from were generally out of date (and expensive) and the coursework moronically boring. Invariably, in his Computing classes, he found himself supporting other learners rather than extending his own competencies. It was not long before he left in disgust.

My concern at that time was simple: "Why should we encourage our pupils to be bright enquiring collaborative learners if all their new learning skills were to be 'rubbished' by the colleges and universities?"

Fourteen years later it would appear that the same scenario still exists. Trent's conclusions need careful contemplation - and application, not only in HE but also in mainstream education.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ewan MacIntosh on 'sharing'

Screenshot: Ewan MacIntosh
Ewan neatly presents the argument for pupils collaborating in their learning. This is an excellent video and at less than 4 minutes expresses concisely what in my view an ePortfolio is all about.

However, before teachers new to ePortfolios start clamouring for full openness we need to think of some of the preconditions. Ewan identifies three possible sharing scenarios, ie within the whole class, within the whole school or the ultimate sharing scenario of the whole world. This might be OK for adult learners, but I would put in a plea for establishing proper safeguards.

With eFolio, of course there is a better solution, that of steadily expanding one's audience as situations demand and even allowing different audiences to see only selected items.

Children need to be taught about what I call 'Digital Responsibility'. Firstly this involves understanding how to ensure that personal information is not given gratuitously to strangers. But secondly, information posted on one's ePortfolio should be legitimately presented and not defamatory of any third person or their works. And thirdly, and most importantly, if legal action is not to be incurred, that sources should always be properly quoted.

Even recognising the above, I feel that there is still firstly a place for teaching about Digital Responsibility, including some form of contractual AUP and secondly, an obligation for schools to have in place an appropriate level of filtering and monitoring which will vary from school to school.

And lastly, parents should be seen to have a clear understanding of what their offspring are up to, at school, at home and elsewhere when not directly supervised. A recent post on 'The Declaration of Digital Citizenship' makes interesting reading.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Going round in circles?

Graphic: Yin and YangI am becoming increasingly frustrated by authors who seem to think that the ePortfolio is just another assessment tool to be used in similar ways to previous summative assessment methods. Secondly, it seems that these same authors perceive the ePortfolio to be an institutional tool and as such propose that it should be the (only?) course management tool.

Several years ago I wrote an article 'Who's hijacking our ePortfolios?' In that document I describe a wide range of stakeholders who might think that they have the right to determine how and when an ePortfolio is used. Years later, I still maintain that it is not the place of any institution to assume that they can take control of how an ePortfolio is used and, for that matter, how many students might choose to use their ePortfolio for that particular subject or module. The recent article by Tracy Penny Light illustrates this whole unfortunate mentality. Unless the ePortfolio is deemed to be the property of the learner it can hardly be said to represent the 'whole person'.

The second thing that Tracy Penny Light fails to mention is the place of formative assessment or feedback - what I have called elsewhere, 'Just in Time feedback'. Feedback, an essential part of Web2.0 thinking, is of the essence of learning, as I often mention in this blog. As Trent Batson recognised in 'The testing Straightjacket', it is the process of discovery learning that embeds true learning and that may come from the feedback of parents, peers, mentors, or even other experts. Without this, assessment is no more than testing and thus students only learn in order to meet the assessment criteria, and teachers only assess what they have delivered. A closed or circular argument if ever there was one!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

ePortfolios in the U.S.: Slowly Catching on

Dreamstime Image: Girl thinking at laptopFor an independent view of the ePortfolio scene I have asked Kate Cunningham (see below) to present her views of ePortfolio progress in the US. This is a frank summation, uncluttered by the wishful thinking of ePortfolio evangelists or student enthusiasts. Read on!

While ePortfolios have gained popularity throughout the globe as the future of learning and presentation, their institutional implementation across the American school system is sadly lacking. In fact, ePortfolios do not have broad base use in higher education, although about 100 institutions represented themselves at a recent global technology conference to talk about ePortfolios.

There are, of course, Virtual Learning Environments in different American Universities. I only recently graduated from an American institution of higher learning, and it was here that the school's specific VLE, powered by the Sakai Project, was used. While the tools provided through this specific VLE were functional enough, I was taken aback by how little it was used.

When I asked friends attending different universities, the extent to which they used a VLE was just as minimal. Of course, the VLE was certainly popularly employed for the dissemination of grades, the uploading of assignments, and the downloading of various course texts. However, for the sake of preserving student work, creating multi-format presentations, or accomplishing anything that would be of a lasting nature, university IT tools were short of the mark.

Wikis are more commonly used within the university structure, although, again they are not implemented on a basis that crosses through courses. In my experience, certain professors asked their students to use Wikis, but most didn't. In one specific course that stands out in my mind, we used a Wiki not just as a place to post assignments but also as a presentational platform to show our work to everyone in the class, as well as to work together on group projects by editing pages together.

While the ePortfolio idea has not yet taken off in the United States, Campus Technology, an American monthly dedicated solely to the use of technology in institutions of higher education, reported in July on the AAEEBL's first world conference set in Boston. The AAEEBL, which stands for The Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning, convened to discuss the nature of "a profoundly disruptive technology"--ePortfolios.

The article noted:

“With the advent of AAEEBL, a global collaborative, the portfolio conversation has quickened, deepened, and broadened. Now, well past the trough of disappointment portfolio has a global association affiliated with all existing portfolio initiatives and organizations. The work is just beginning.”

Indeed, the work is just beginning, but now that more and more are talking about ePortfolios and their powerful learning tools, comprehensive implementation will be the next step. It will certainly take some time.

This guest post is contributed by Kate Cunningham, who writes on the topics of online university rankings. She welcomes your questions and comments at her email Id: .

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Learning Through Life

Book Cover: Learning Throgh LifeI've just started catching up on my 'holiday reading' and feel most remiss in that I have not previously read 'Learning Through Life' despite it having been published last year. On almost every page there are profound observations which, when added together, create a storm of conscience. It is the well-know scenario of "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer." or in this case, the educated continue to learn more, and thus enhance their lifestyles, whilst the less well-educated find themselves falling further behind. Is this really the right response to the Leitch Report?

I particularly like the abiguity of the title - ie Learning Throughout Life, or Learning From Life.

However, as regular readers will recognise, I keep on feeling a sense of frustration in that, in my opinion, the solution to many of the issues raised is THE EPORTFOLIO ! It talks (p5) of 'Local Learning Exchanges' but fails to recognise the place of virtual communities and thus the place of ePortfolios as supporting 'Communities of Interest'.

I cannot find any references to 'Learning Styles' or 'Multiple Intelligences'. This, again, is important. We need to understand how people not only of different 'attitudes' or life-styles learn but how age might influence learners' preferred learning styles.

RAPEL The Recording and Assessment of Prior and Experiential Learning appears not to be considered. Again, the ePortfolio is an excellent way of encouraging a learner to document a wide variety of experiences and accomplishments that a mentor might recognise as worth recording and submitting through one's ePortfolio in order to get a foothold on the 'Learning Ladder'.

Above all, I get the feeling that the authors still feel that institutional teaching and learning is the only solution. We read (P8) of the 'personalisation' of learning, ie as delivered by the institution, but not of 'personal learning' as devised by the individual. - See Wendy Drexler's article.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Multimedia and ePortfolios

Photo: A group of children around a laptop in their classroom.I have just read an excellent article by Barbara Schroeder extolling the virtues of using multimedia in the classroom. But why the empasis on the 'Classroom'? Why not everywhere? Why not at home? Why not on a long car journey or on the bus to school? And certainly why not in their ePortfolios?

Many of the features of Multiple Intelligences, motivation, collaboration and peer-review etc hinted at in her post I have previously attempted to address in this blog. As I have said elsewhere, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, what value can we put on a video!" - Or for that matter any other graphical or aural media?

Thank you, Barbara, and GGfL for an excellent promotion of all that is so educationally apposite about using multimedia in ePortfolios as well as the classroom.